Top secret: my potential future salary
May 14, 2013 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Is it common to keep the salary of a position under wraps until the job is offered to a candidate?

I have had an interview with an interesting company for a relatively junior position. When the post was listed, there was no mention of salary, so I asked about it during the "do you have any questions for us" part of the interview. My interviewers claimed they didn't know what the exact salary scale was, and referred me to HR.

Afterwards, I sent off a thank you email to HR, and included a short question about work hours and salary. I received an answer with the first bit of information, and then an apology for not being able to give out salary details at this stage. This has left me a bit puzzled, and I guess what I really want to know is whether this is a common thing? I am weighing several potential future jobs against each other at the moment, and barring offers from somewhere that will pay me to read Metafilter all day, salary is one of the things I am quite keen on actually knowing so that I can make an informed decision. I don't suppose there is any diplomatic way of getting even very vague ballpark figures from HR unless they contact me to offer me the position?
posted by harujion to Work & Money (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't run across it, but they may be in negotiations with the budget department to see what kind of salary they can offer.
posted by xingcat at 10:17 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

As an employer we don't talk about salary until we're ready to make a job offer (California, USA).
posted by Long Way To Go at 10:19 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my experience this is not uncommon, at least in the US. My favorite part is when they offer you the job, then act really mad when you turn it down because the salary turns out to be something you wouldn't have accepted when you were in college.

(Also, in my experience, people who are THAT shifty about salary are usually shifty for a reason - either the salary is really awful, OR they are the kind of company that likes to keep people in the dark so they have all the power. Think carefully about what that might mean for you as an employee.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This actually seems pretty standard. You aren't going to get salary numbers from them unless they want to offer you the position. Then you might get an informal verbal offer with salary figures as the basis for any negotiation before they provide a written offer with the final figure. Or they might just give you a written offer and revise it if any negotiations ensue.
posted by rocketpup at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I could understand if they do not want to discuss a specific salary number until a job offer is extended.

However, it's a little odd to not even be able to get a budgeted salary range for the open job requisition. What if you and the employer are completely in different ranges? By not disclosing, at minimum, a salary range, it could be an enormous time waster for both of you.
posted by seppyk at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I've had places where they nodded and smiled when I said my salary requirements, then came in 5-10,000+ under what I was asking for, then act shocked and angry when I turned it down.

I usually ask if they have a range but even then that doesn't always get me an answer.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:22 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Its not weird at all that the line folks won't have that discussion - they might even know the range but have been told by HR to not divulge.

You should have a face to face with HR and expect that they will ask you about comp. I actually don't think its weird if that didn't occur until a second round.
posted by JPD at 10:22 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

They probably have a very good idea of the range, and it is probably similar to whatever the standard is for the industry and location but you won't hear about it until they actually make a verbal offer. I've always been taught not to ask about salary until much later in the negotiations, if at all, because it makes me look greedy and only interested in the money, not how I can contribute to the business.
posted by Dragonness at 10:25 AM on May 14, 2013

At the last place I worked, we were expressly forbidden from naming salary numbers or talking ranges with interviewees. The most we could do was refer them back to the posting, which had a range. We were not allowed to tell them that policy required they be hired very close to the bottom of the range. I believe if they contacted HR directly they could have had the range confirmed, but again would not have been told until negotiations that there was no way to get hired much above the bottom of the range. (Public university/hospital hybrid workplace.)

At my current workplace (private university, there is no range given in job listings. I did have a very general discussion of ranges during my initial HR phone interview, and was pretty much told that they have vast flexibility to tailor the salary to the candidate's qualifications and experience.
posted by Stacey at 10:31 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

In a salaried job this is totally normal. There isn't usually flat rate for a job - we'd offer people with more experience or credentials more than we'd offer a less attractive candidate.

Unless this is an hourly job where everyone gets the same wage, this is pretty standard.
posted by 26.2 at 10:31 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. I have a totally different background from most people here - I've worked in Japan and Sweden, and am currently in the UK, and have never even applied for a position that had not already disclosed the salary (or at least salary range) in the advert. It's good to know it's just cultural differences, and not something with this job in particular. I will try to be patient now.
posted by harujion at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2013

This is standard. Just tread lightly because, as suggested above, this might mean a terrible offer. My "aha" moment came when I did three rounds with a company whose culture and projects I found fascinating, only to find the salary they were offering would have meant six roommates and a second job to boot. Use your best judgment.
posted by littlerobothead at 10:39 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, as people have said, outside of government and certain other very bureaucratic places, there is no such thing as a "salary for a position."

There is a salary they are willing to pay a specific candidate.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:45 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yep, true. Think of salary as the minimum amount of money to spend to meet the company's current need. If they feel the candidate is particularly in demand, they may be willing to pay more; if he's marginally qualified but the best option, they will pay less. Kind of a supply and demand situation.

If it's a large company, there will be a standard salary band for the job, and they will offer the minimum they think they can get away with to fill the position.
posted by Doohickie at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in the US and I interview people fairly often for jobs in my company and I'm completely out of the loop on what salaries are offered to people. That's totally in the domain of upper management and HR who put together the offers after people go through the interview process. There's no way to know how much to offer someone until you've interviewed them to know how much he/she is worth to the company.
posted by octothorpe at 11:42 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have found this to be very common (like some posters above, I am also in California). The majority of my experience is sort of in the accounting realm.

At the last place I worked, I had a co-worker who was very savvy at handling her financial affairs (somewhat out of necessity; her education/experience put her in more clerical-type positions, so she was generally on a tight budget). When she was called for an initial interview, she asked point-blank about salary. When HR demurred, she told them that she wouldn't waste her time or the company's going through interviews unless she knew up front that in the end the salary would be worth it. She also re-stated her salary range requirements (inflated, of course). She got at least that much information out of them, if not exact numbers.

Anecdotally, I whole-heartedly believe that my manager at that same company was paid a bonus dependent upon how low of a salary she could bring people in at.
posted by vignettist at 12:05 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't believe I've ever heard a salary discussed in an interview unless it was already included in the job posting. They ask how much you want, and make you an offer.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:20 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm baffled. I always ask up front, "Just so that we're all on the same page here, what is the salary range for this position?" They should be forthcoming with a range of numbers: "We're looking to find someone in the $45,000 to $55,000 range"

If they turn it around on you and ask, have a figure in mind. I go to to get decent ideas, "Clearly that's going to depend on the total compensation package. I'm expecting somewhere in the ballpark of $50,000, is that what you had in mind?"

My belief is that there's no point in wasting my time or the time of a hiring manager if the money isn't where I want it to be.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:27 PM on May 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

If I'm doubt about the salary being in the neighborhood I want to be in, I bring it up on the initial phone screen before I even go in for an interview. And I do it exactly like the example vignettist gave. I don't want waste your time interviewing for a job I won't be able to accept. I'm making X now and I'm looking for Y to make a change. Is that reasonable for this position? I've never had a problem getting an answer. I have had some issues with the truthfulness of those answers though.
posted by COD at 12:36 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Datapoint - I applied for a job as a technology administrator for a school district. They advertised the job with a specific salary (which turned out to be the max) not a salary range. The superintendent wanted to hired me and offered a lower rate. I pointed out that the ad said otherwise. He read the ad, face-palmed, and agreed.

This is one reason to not present a salary until the offer - because typos happen.
posted by plinth at 12:54 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

At my company, the most we are willing to give you before an actual offer is a range, and even that is fairly wide and heavily caveated.
posted by spaltavian at 1:52 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's stupid, but it's not uncommon.
posted by radioamy at 1:53 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I interviewed for a position I was highly-qualified for. There was no mention of salary in the listing or from the HR department, but they knew how much I made at my current job.

After a fantastic phone interview (it was me and five interviewers on the phone due to geographic distance) they finally told me their budgeted range. It turns out it was really, really low - about $25,000 less per year than I had anticipated. They weren't willing to budge, so I had to turn them down.

It's a shame, because they really wanted to hire me, but they also really wasted my time. Had they been upfront about the pay, I wouldn't have applied at all.
posted by tacodave at 3:34 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not uncommon, as many have mentioned. I think the reason many employers are shocked or upset that a candidate would decline after jumping through the hoops is because most of them think that the candidate should feel lucky to be offered a job in the first place. Many employers seem to believe they're in the position of offering something that the candidates all want and will do next to anything for. Which is why they think information asymmetry is OK, why they conduct the entire process with next to no communication, why the timeframe for the process is so arbitrary (it could be completely rushed or it could drag out for months), why sending a "sorry, we went with someone else" is optional but candidates who don't send the "thanks for your time email" are lazy idiots unwilling to put in effort. Many employers think they have something many people want and that lets them dictate all terms.

Sadly, in many cases (unskilled generic jobs from sales to general office work) they're right. What's funny is when they struggle to fill a specific position with a specific person and most candidates are already employed and unwilling to play their games because they can afford to be picky. Because these candidates view the interview process as a vetting thing on both sides. These same employers just don't know how to react when someone says "sorry, that's not enough money, good luck". What do you mean this person didn't just jump at the salary we offered them, especially after we made them come to three interviews over four months?
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:48 PM on May 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

One more voice, though with experience in California, Texas and the Middle East. It has seemed over the years that more people have tossed out a range pretty early in the process.
posted by ambient2 at 12:16 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm with Ruthless Bunny of the mind that not sharing salary expectations both ways is a waste of everyone's time. Since most employers are cagey about it, or they state the useless phrase "depending upon experience", I suggest being up front about what you expect to earn and give them the opportunity to decline the discussion early on.

This particular company sounds like they haven't actually gotten a budget for the position in question. In my experience companies that pay generous salaries are glad to announce it in their position descriptions, whereas those who pay marginal or average rates prefer to keep mum.
posted by dgran at 6:34 AM on May 15, 2013

It's interesting to me that people turn down interview opportunities. Twice in my career I've interviewed for jobs and the interviewer didn't hire me, but referred me to someone who did. I've done that for candidates. (In fact, I once placed all 3 candidates from my shortlist into a job at this company. I consider it a huge win.)

I'm willing to waste a day interviewing just to see what happens.
posted by 26.2 at 4:11 PM on May 15, 2013

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